While studying various procedures in learning, such as classical and operant
conditioning, some scientists have questioned the role of artificial laboratory models and
have thus assumed a more ecological perspective in understanding the learning process.
Some behaviors that are more complex than Pavlov's simple reflexes appear to require no
learning at all, such as beavers building dams or birds building nests. Other behaviors
appear to be extremely easy or difficult for a given species to learn (Seligman, 1970).
Still other behaviors can be demonstrated to develop, and sometimes very quickly or
easily (Seligman, 1971), with some developing at any time while other developing only
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Reasoning much as the ethologists might,
Seligman also asserts that in addition to preparedness there are certain biological
constraints in the pigeon's natural environment and physiology that make a pigeon's use
of its beak more successful for finding food by pecking than by pulling. Seligman's
concept of behavioral preparedness thus includes the notion that an organism can be
prepared, unprepared and even contra-prepared for learning a specific form of behavior.
Another ecologically effected learning phenomenon is bait shyness, or
conditioned taste aversion. For example, Garcia and his colleagues (Garcia, Kimeldorf,
Hunt, |_2 Davies, 1956; Garcia, McGowan, |_2 Green, 1972) found that a rat stops eating
a given type of food if it later experiences nausea. In other experiments thirsty rats were
given saccharin-sweetened water to drink. All animals were presented combinations of
external stimuli that accompanied their drinking. These stimuli included a click and a
flash of light as well as the taste of saccharin-flavored water each time the rat licked at
the water dispenser. One group of Garcia's rats received a painful shock after the
presentation of the click, the light and the water independently. The other group of rats
received X-irradiation that would elicit nausea after experiencing each of the stimuli
When Garcia tested for associations, he made a surprising discovery. The rats that
were given the shock after each of the stimuli displayed aversion only to the click and the
light, not to the flavored water. Those rats that received x-rays after each stimulus onlydisplayed aversion to the flavored water and not to the click or the light. Garcia
concluded that organisms are biologically predisposed to develop certain associations
between stimuli and that these take precedence over other relations. The rats in his study
were prepared for the association between click/light and shock as well as taste and
nausea. These associations are successful for survival in the natural environment and are
easier to make because the organism is biologically constrained...